Diving in to her ARP

We asked Emma Leonard to explain why marine mammals struggle to coexist with a military presence in their waters.

Your ARP focuses on something a lot of people know very little about: the effects of military sonar on cetaceans, specifically whales.
Yes. Sound is the most important thing in the life of whales. They use it to find food, and change diving patterns all year to find the right temperature of water for mating and birthing. When the military started using mid-frequency sonar after the Cold War, this resulted in a drastic increase in cetacean strandings. What’s happening is the whales and the sonar are interfering with each other, and whales are suffering from decompression sickness from moving up and down too quickly in the water.

You seem to have a passion for marine biology.
I do. My parents met in California, and I have family out there, and we have always visited the ocean. And it’s just so unexplored. I have a thing for outer space, too, but we know more about space than we do the oceans, which cover 75 percent of our planet. Too few people are exploring the waters, and there is so much to be explored.

What else are you passionate about?
In eighth grade, I wanted to be a fashion designer. My mom went to fashion school and worked for Levi’s, and we have bonded over fashion. I work on costume design for the fall and winter theater shows at school, and have every year since I was a freshman. I’m a visual person, a very visual learner.

How will you be presenting your ARP?
I realized my project would be more engaging if I did more than write a paper and cite my sources. I learned that it’s important to recognize that I had to make my own connections and use outside sources to shape them. I had to use my own brain. So, while I wasn’t going to build military-grade sonar, I used Arduino, with a board and wires and coding system. I was able to figure out the ping is in the 40,000 Hz. I realized people don’t know a lot about sonar, so I will do a demonstration with a meter stick to get people to understand how it works under water. I showed this at the Detroit Science Fair where I played the sound of a frequency that we can hear. I won a Naval Science Award for environmental management.

When we take the first course in ARP, people think it’s annoying, but by the end of senior year, you recognize how the experience gives you issues to really talk about, as well as research skills, citation and science writing skills, all of which will be helpful in college and the rest of my life.

What’s next for you?
I’ll be going to the University of Colorado at Boulder because they have an ecology and evolutionary biology program, plus one of the best physics programs, so I’ll minor in geophysics. Their honors program allows students to do a four-year honors thesis, so I can continue with the project I’m doing now, or choose another project to study instead.

The Academic Research Project: High-Level, Immersive Growth

Liggett graduates say they enter university head and shoulders above their peers because of the academic rigor and challenges they faced as students at Liggett. They are already experienced in critical reading, research assessment, and exploratory questioning – even more so if they completed an Academic Research Project, or ARP, while at Liggett.

The ARP is like no other high school assignment. For two years between 11th and 12th grade, Upper School students live and breathe a topic that springs from their own individual interests and passions. They dig deep, ask big questions, and consult trusted resources. Then, under the guidance of a Liggett teacher-mentor, they create a research proposal before diving in to immersive, research-intensive work.

“We teach the kids to start big, and then narrow it down,” explains Shernaz Minwalla, Assistant Head of Upper School, Dean of Student Life, and ARP director at Liggett.

Liggett students aren’t just Googling or wandering the library stacks — they are assessing existing research, validating resources and querying subject experts. “All 12th-graders make some form of contact with an expert in their field of study,” Minwalla says. “Some even do their own authentic research. One student worked at Henry Ford Research Institute under the guidance of a researcher. Another worked collaboratively with an orthopedic surgeon.”

The ARP subjects are a diverse as the students’ interests. Some are medically focused, while others embrace specifics of engineering. Some parse geopolitical movements, scrutinize the impact of historical eras, or dissect the implications of art forms on a specific population. Some students produce products or find solutions to challenging global problems. One student even obtained a U.S. patent on his design.

When a student can make a meaningful connection through the ARP, all students benefit. “We welcomed the National Theatre of the Deaf for a workshop for a dozen students after school,” says Minwalla. “What a great partnership. It’s fabulous.”

Collaboration allows current Liggett scholars to connect with grads who walked in their footsteps just a few years earlier. Last year, a student in his final few semesters of a physics degree from the University of Michigan supported a Liggett junior to help him create his final iteration of his research proposal. It was a beautiful connection between a mentor who has completed university-level research and a student embarking on a full year of hard work, strong-footed on a focused path toward discovery.

At the end of each academic year, graduating seniors participate in the Celebration of Research to showcase their projects and cap off the ARP. It’s an event that is well attended by Liggett graduates, and offers teacher-mentors the chance to mine experiences to better the ARP program.

“Those who have just graduated from college, in particular, are able to share what got them to where they are now,” Minwalla says, adding that teachers are able to continually evaluate the Academic Research Project program based on feedback from these Liggett alumni — the very first who have completed the ARP in 2013. What was then a voluntary opportunity for interested students, the ARP became a part of the Liggett curriculum in 2017.

“They value the program, and during the Celebration of Research, they will come back and see how the program has evolved,” Minwalla says. “It’s a meaningful event for both our students and our alumni.”

What’s Your ARP? We asked senior Abigail Hung

Your ARP is about orthopedic reconstruction of the equine distal limb, which refers to a break in one or more of the bones from a horse’s knee joint to its hoof. You describe this type of fracture as one of the most devastating injuries in horses. How do you see your ARP making an impact on horses and other equine animals in the future?
Repair procedures must allow for the horse to stand almost immediately following surgery, and the current standard is locked plate fixation. It’s fairly straightforward. Plates are placed underneath the skin, and screws or wires are fastened in place to stabilize the area. While successful, the use of metal heightens the risk for infection and rejection. I’m working to come up with a repair alternative, another procedure, or a product that makes it easier for the horse to heal. The injury I’m researching is so devastating to horses, in part because their skeletal structure is built so that horses can’t redistribute weight over the other three legs without causing damage. I’d like to decrease recovery time and fatality rates following this injury.

How do you expect to present your ARP at the end of the year?
I’d like to use the standard poster board method to share my results, but I would like to have a physical product as well. My goal for my ARP is to design and produce a product which would work with the body’s natural healing process, allowing for faster recovery time and, hopefully, fewer complications. I’m in the development stage right now since it’s the beginning of the year, and I’m mapping out my research plan now. There’s a long road ahead!

How did you connect with your expert mentors?
My mom is from Alabama and she went to Auburn University, and my dad taught there for a while. My godparents have two friends who are professors at Auburn in clinical studies and I took the chance to talk with them. Dr. R. Reid Hanson corresponded with me, even though he was in Germany at the time. Dr. John Schumacher also gave me some good information. We discussed some high-profile cases, in particular Barbaro, a horse that won the Kentucky Derby, but shattered his leg in Preakness. We talked about why the surgery wasn’t successful and he recommended a book called Equine Surgery, which was very helpful. A wonderful thing about Liggett, though, is that our teachers have experienced so much. Ms. Dann knows so many people who can help me, and those in my class. They really can connect us to a multitude of resources.

What skills have you gained as a result of your ARP?
Organization and research. I’ve learned how to research something, where to look, and how to reach out to professionals in a professional manner. That will help me in college and certainly if I decide to become a researcher some day.

What have you learned about horses that surprised you?
Thoroughbreds are genetically predisposed to develop the horse version of osteoporosis, and much of this is with breeding. They have a lighter, thinner frame, like a greyhound, which is more aerodynamic, but more likely to break a bone. With thinner bones or higher porosity, the horse is lighter, but more fragile.

What’s Your ARP? Five questions with Liggett senior Craig Buhler

Share with us the short version of your ARP.
I’ve always been interested in sports, and especially sports medicine. I learned that one surgical procedure in particular, Tommy John Surgery, is used widely on major league pitchers to repair ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) tears. I wanted to investigate that, and learn if there is an alternative to this procedure.

What experts have you talked with so far?
I have talked with Dr. James Andrews in Atlanta, who is a well-known orthopedic surgeon, and has been around since the 1970s. He has performed numerous surgeries, and he explained his thoughts on the increase in Tommy John Surgery. He believes that there are many younger players who specialize just in baseball, which leads to more stress, resulting in tears that require surgery. Dr. Andrews also shared his knowledge of possible alternatives, like stem cell therapy. He said that more research needs to be done on PRP, or platelet-rich therapy, and primary repair therapy, which is a little different from Tommy John Surgery. Now I’m working to contact another doctor for more perspectives and digging in to see if there are any studies about stem cell therapy or other alternatives. I’ve had help from Mr. Bronk, our headmaster, on reading the medical research. He’s a really smart guy.

You also spent time with pitcher Alex Wilson in the Detroit Tigers dugout. He had Tommy John Surgery. What did he share with you?
Alex Wilson told me about his experience, and offered his advice to younger baseball players and college athletes. He shared with me that he knew something was wrong because he was having sharp pains, and then felt the ligament tear. Recovery from surgery takes about 15 months, but his recovery took only 10 months, which I found interesting. The advice he gave to athletes is to treat pitching like it’s a job. Don’t over throw, and definitely play multiple sports.

What skills have you developed through your ARP and how do you think you’ll use them in the future?
I’ve learned a lot about the value of collecting data from different perspectives, and about using primary and secondary sources. I know how to get the main point of what is being said, and how important it is to do thorough research, and to figure out which resources are credible and which are not. Taking into consideration different perspectives is important. I’ll be using all these skills in college, especially when doing research.

What do you like to do when you’re not working on your ARP?
I play golf, and tennis in the fall. I have recently picked up squash, and I play rec league basketball in the winter. I also love food and like visiting Detroit restaurants. Vertical has a great burger, and Parc in Campus Martius is tremendous.

Middle School Tech-Free Week – Reflections

The Middle School went tech-free all week. Classes were tech-free, so was homework. Parents were asked to be supportive and limit its use at home. Today, and during the week students were asked to answer questions to reflect on the experiment. They wrote their answers on large sheets of colored paper that were hung in the commons.

Here, in the words of the students, is how it went.

My media life is like a _____ because _________. (This question is from Day 1)

  • “My media life is like food because I always need it.”
  • “My media life is like sleep because if I don’t have it, I’m not happy.”

How much do you rely on tech for your school work. Is it a necessity?

  • “Not a necessity, just helpful.”
  • “It’s necessary for the way I work.”

How has our tech-free week changed you work in classes? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages?

  • “No phone. No phone. No phone.”
  • “It helped me make an improvement on my school work because I have been more focused.”
  • More focused, but work takes longer.
  • “No advantages. Drawbacks were being unable to look stuff up or read ebooks.”

What are the benefits of a tech-free school?

  • “Technology can distract us easily so being tech-free would be a benefit in that view.”
  • “It would take away lots of resources that could provide good information.”
  • “You would be held back from the real world.”

How would school be different if technology was never allowed at school?

  • “It would be terrible! We would not be able to look up things.”
  • “Our backpacks would be heavy.”
  • “It would be incredibly impractical.”

How do you feel about spending tech-free time outside of school?

  • “Never going to happen. It wouldn’t last, I don’t think.”
  • “Stupid.”
  • “I like taking a break sometimes. I am more creative and I get more done.”
  • “I would feel empty quite honestly because if you’re outside of school then you might not be able to communicate with someone. (To which another student replied “Meet them in person! That’s how people used to.”)

Could you do this for a longer period of time?

  • “Absolutely not. It was terrible.”
  • “At school yes, but never at home.”
  • “No. I’m good.”
  • “Yes, I didn’t really have an issue.”
  • “Yes, but it would be hard. After a while I would really miss it.”

There you have it. Parents: Have them read this post and discuss it with you — now that they can use technology.

By Ron Bernas

Middle School Tech-Free Week: Day 1

This week, our Middle Schoolers are going from “high tech” to “bye, tech.” But don’t worry, it’s only for four days and there is an educational purpose.

So, through Friday, Middle School students cannot bring technology devices to school. They can bring their phones, but they must be stored in their lockers. Homework will not require technology and though it will be posted on the portal, students will be encouraged to write assignments down in the paper planner they received at the beginning of the school year.

“We really love what we’re able to do with technology,” Jim Brewer, Middle School Dean of Students, said. “We’re not stepping away from technology, but we want to provide a little perspective for the students. We want them to step back and take a breath and look at how they interact with technology and we don’t think they can get that fresh perspective without something like this.”

Middle School Technology Integrator Autumn DeGroot — who will still have plenty to do this week, she assures me — said it was interesting to walk into the morning meeting and hear the buzz of students talking, not looking at their Smartphones or iPads. Brewer agreed there was a different dynamic, too, because kids weren’t running through the halls before school started, device in hand, showing their friends things they found on the Internet.

Student advisories will also be focused on the unplugged week. Today, students discussed what role digital media plays in their lives. Tomorrow, students will be asked to think about the effect of sensory overload from electronic devices. On Friday they will go over the results of a technology survey they took be asked to write what, if anything, they learned from the week. They will also look into the future of technology and imagine what this school will look like in 20 years. Brewer’s most excited about Thursday’s project: Students will have to write an actual letter. By hand. On paper. And mail it.

Middle School parents received an information sheet and tips on how to follow up with the project at home. “We want parents to have this conversation with their kids,” Brewer said. “In our classes and from our technology talks for parents earlier in the year we saw a wide range of attitudes about technology.” Some students aren’t allowed to watch TV or play video or computer games on school nights, while others couldn’t believe that was possible.

Keep with us this week as we take that trip with the students. On Friday we’ll post some of their thoughts.

Parents can find information about raising digital children all over the Internet, but here’s a starting place.

By Ron Bernas

Robotics, the ultimate challenge

It’s crunch week for Knight Vision, Liggett’s robotics team.

This weekend is the team’s first meet of the season. Team coordinator Kim Galea and her assistant Tiffany Meyer are feeling pretty good about it. Based on the results of another round of competition last week, they know their team’s robot is able to do things other schools could not do.

The team is hard at work.

This year’s challenge is called Ultimate Ascent and the rules, right from the FIRST Robotics website are as follows: “Two competing alliances (compete) on a flat, 27 x 54 foot field. Each alliance consists of three robots, and they compete to score as many (Frisbee-style) discs into their goals as they can during a two-minute and fifteen-second match. The higher the goal in which the disc is scored, the more points the alliance receives.The match begins with a fifteen-second Autonomous Period in which robots operate independently of driver inputs. Discs scored during this period are worth additional points. For the remainder of the match, drivers control robots and try to maximize their alliance score by scoring as many goals as possible. The match ends with robots attempting to climb up pyramids located near the middle of the field. Each robot earns points based on how high it climbs.”

So, basically, the kids have to figure out how to create a robot that can accurately toss Frisbees and climb something. Still, Galea said the students and she feel this is the hardest challenge in their three years of competition.

“We began with the idea that we’d just work on the climbing mechanism,” Galea said. “We didn’t know how we would be able to create a shooter for the discs, but the higher you climb, the more points you get. We focused on the climbing because we figured we’d do one thing really well and get as many points as possible there instead of doing everything only sort of mediocre.”

But the 21 students on the team — nine are freshman and the other twelve are divided evenly among the other three grades — came up with a shooting arm that seems to work and also is able to pick discs up off the floor (something many of the robots at last weekend’s competition couldn’t do) while creating a strong climbing robot.

But it took a lot of work. FIRST, which sponsors the robotics competition around the world, announced the challenge on January 5. All participating teams got a box of parts, but no instructions on how to use them. That’s when the work began. Students gathered Mondays and Wednesdays after school for two hours, on Fridays for 5 1/2 hours and for eight hours on Saturdays.

In addition to Galea and Meyer, they brought in parent Ron Jachim, who has helped for three years and an outside mentor who has worked with another school’s robotics team for years. Parents have sent in food and pop (“It’s amazing how much pop 20 kids can go through in a weekend,” Galea says.) to fuel the marathon working sessions.

Others have been very generous, too, Galea said, the Stahl Groupe, the Wu Family and Becker Ventures have joined the school in putting up $16,000 to fund the building of the machine, which includes many parts not in the original starter kit.

“It’s a lot of work,” Galea said, “But the kids get so much out of it. In addition to the tech experience, they learn about programming, wiring electrical boards, how motors work and even some of the business aspects of the group.” And they learn about teamwork.

“The main concept of the meets is that everybody wants everybody else to succeed,” Galea said. “That’s why they call it a ‘cooperatition’ — it’s a competition, sure, but you often have to cooperate with another team to do well. If a part on someone’s robot fails and we have an extra one we give them ours and we know they would do the same.”

There’s also another possible payoff, Galea said. There is $16 million in scholarships to students who participate in FIRST robotics. The only two Liggett students who applied for the scholarships received grants to pay for their education, Galea said.

The first competition is Friday and Saturday at Waterford Mott High School, with a meet at Center Line High School the following weekend. This year, the team will participate in a third competition at the end of spring break. They can work on the robots between the meets to improve them and, they hope, make a mark at the state competition in April.

For more on FIRST Robotics, click here.

By Ron Bernas

Videoconferencing — it’s not just for business

This week, the seventh graders and the sixth graders — on different days — chatted with students at Mate Masie School in Ghana, getting to know their lives, culture and even what movies they watch. Earlier this week, the sixth graders took an interactive tour of a University of Pennsylvania museum exhibit on life in ancient Rome, studying mosaics, busts and touring a home of the time. Upper Schoolers discussed women in hip hop with experts at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Next month, Lower School and eighth-grade students will participate in Read Around the Planet, an international read in with skits, songs and more.

Our sixth graders, on the right, talked with students in Ghana over videoconferencing equipment Liggett purchased to help expand the classroom experience.

All this was done with Polycom videoconferencing equipment usually used by businesses: The students never left school.

“Basically,” says Information Technology Manager Phil MacKethan, “they took a bunch of inexpensive field trips. They also toured a museum they wouldn’t have been able to see.”

This morning the sixth graders from Ghana learned about baseball, that Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in America, is the home of the automobile, has a pretty darn solid Bill of Rights and heard our students sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Our students learned — through a pretty elaborate presentation that included a green

Students learned how to tie a toga during a private, interactive tour of a museum at the University of Pennsylvania.

screen — that the students say they are direct descendants of Abraham (even quoting the Bible verse), that Ghana is one of the biggest producers of cocoa in the world, that soccer is the favorite game there and that the Super Bowl started at 11:30 p.m. their time. They ate chips and cheese curls while watching it, just like we did. The presentation began and ended with a traditional Ghanian song.

Technology integrator Autumn DeGroot sees this technology as a giant step up from Skype, because the quality of the picture and connection is so much better. She says it’s a way to bring the world to our students and our students to the world. She, in collaboration with Lower School technology integrator Carol Kissel and Director of Technology Jay Trevorrow,  finds the opportunities to connect through a website that connects schools with the technology who want to learn about the wider world.

“This technology makes global learning possible,” DeGroot says.

It brings everyone closer together to learn, and that’s a good lesson in itself.

By Ron Bernas